The Kvarner Gulf

The gulf stretches north from Senj to the Istrian peninsular with Italy. We ventured along the increasingly busy coast road to bypass huge, industrial Rijeka before winding our way along a jammed tourist route towards Lovran.

Motorhomes, caravans and tour coaches all vied for space on sharp corners against local buses and lorries and through busy coastal resort towns, in the rain. It was with relief that we arrived in the quiet cove of Medveja and pitched up at a surprisingly empty camp.

Now officially ‘end of season’ it felt depressing to be sat on an unkempt and overgrown scrubby patch of land with strange half dismantled pavilions and cabins around us. The weather didn’t help as it stayed overcast with low-slung grey clouds and gusty rains, however we were doing better than  southern Croatia which was having flash floods and violent thunderstorms hurled at it.

The pretty white shingle cove was empty save for litter, a broken parasol and some wooden boarding that may or may not have been a summer beach concession. Its position in a steeply wooded valley of misty fir trees and dotted with Italianate villas is ravishingly romantic and worthy of Shelley, although neither of us could remember if the ill-fated poet ventured along this stretch of coast.

Kvarner gulf coastline

Kvarner gulf coastline

We ambled along a coastal path that alternated between being well paved and marked out to vanishing entirely into the submerged rocky shore.

With wet shoes and trousers we arrived at Lovran, an old harbour town with winding streets of closely built and colourfully-rendered houses sporting wooden shutters in shades of green and blue. Outside of its 14th century ‘stari grad’, it is ringed with handsome belle époque villas which hail from the time that this part of Croatia was included in the Habsburg Empire.

A coastal walkway named in honour of Kaiser Franz Joseph winds from Lovran through the harbour villages of Ika and Ičići to the swanky resort town of Opatija, famed for the excellence of its fish restaurants. We mooched to the town and back and were struck by the variance of the beachside villas.

Some were turn of the century and Venetian in style and had been beautifully renovated and opened up as boutique hotels. Others were derelict 1960s tower-block constructions in sore need of demolition. Considering the likely eye-watering value of their seaside plots, it seemed odd that so many monstrosities were just being left to rot.

Opatija is an architectural lesson in how to squeeze as many buildings as possible into a small bay, and extend the available shorefront with raised concrete walkways and lidos. Behind the vanguard of characterless communist-era hotels and promenades of cafes and bars, plenty of Austro-Hungarian palaces and villas stretch up into the hillside.

We enjoyed an ice cream and were surprised by the price-tag (equivalent of 75p each) and went to visit the manicured public park and abbey, which gives the town its name.

The fish restaurants were plentiful but pricey, so after dodging a few tour groups of Germans and the odd American, we headed back to a locals seafood bistro in Ičići where we were warmly greeted by a charming young and multilingual waitress and possibly the best plate of fried squid and chips in Croatia!

Cheap, cheerful and delicious (50 Kuna or £4.85) – it was our farewell to Croatia.

Squid lunch by the sea

Squid lunch by the sea